Tag Archives: Trellach v. Damar

Trellach v. Damar, Part Three

Trellach v. Damar
A Story by Aaron Canton
-Part Three-

Trellach took a breath. Prentiss couldn’t be invincible, she thought; the game of Lords was too complicated for any individual to master every facet. She just had to find something he didn’t know. Yes, he was a champion who probably knew as much as anyone else about the game, but—

She caught herself. He had been a champion when he was alive. Now, though, he’d been dead and out of tournament play for thirty years. Damar had said he, Prentiss, worked out his own variations, but the game was so vast, he couldn’t possibly have matched the last thirty years of Lords theory on his own. The tactics developed recently had to be new to him. Trellach just had to find and exploit them.

A smile played over her lips as she realized what she could do. “I win,” she murmured. “I figured out his weak point, Damar.”

For the first time, the necromancer seemed puzzled. “Really? What is it?”

“You’ll see.” When she had been studying Lords, Trellach had come across games by what was called the ‘sapper’ school, a group of players who had risen to prominence fifteen years prior following a series of high-profile wins by their most fervent advocates. These players didn’t control strong central outposts with powerful pieces like the ‘outpost’ school did, nor did they try to block off such outposts with mobs of weaker pieces like the ‘blockade’ school. Instead they waited for their opponents to extend themselves by setting up outposts of their own, then attacked, undermined, and destroyed those outposts, much as sappers dug tunnels under castle walls to collapse them. Trellach had never used the tactics of the sapper school, and advocates of other play styles had worked out responses to said tactics five years prior… but Prentiss wouldn’t know that.

So Trellach surrendered the central position and withdrew her army to the outer edges of the board. Prentiss immediately seized the opportunity to build up a stronghold in the center of the board, which controlled a huge swath of territory and pinned down most of Trellach’s army. However, every move that strengthened his outpost resulted in him concentrating his forces a little more, and soon only his knight was providing support from a position outside the outpost while all the rest of his significant pieces were packed together in a seemingly impenetrable formation. If she sacrificed her last priest to draw off that knight, Trellach thought, she could set up a wave of her remaining soldiers, overwhelm the outpost, and remove most of his remaining pieces… provided she hadn’t missed something. But if she was wrong and Prentiss resisted her final assault, she’d be out of material.

Trellach took a long breath as she examined the board. She couldn’t see any way Prentiss could get out of it. Yes, he was a master—a fact she was now acutely aware of—but that didn’t make him invincible. And besides…

I’m smarter than these people, she thought to herself. I’m smarter than all of them.

She moved her priest. Prentiss’ hand darted towards his knight, hesitated for a second, and then—just as Trellach’s heart began thundering in her chest—he grabbed it and took the bait. She barely waited for him to let go before making her own next move, advancing the first soldier towards his army. He immediately knew; she could see his eyes darting along the board while he searched for a way out. But it was just as obvious he didn’t know what to do about it, because when the death knight moved again, it was the exact move the outpost school dictated. That left another wing of his formation undefended, so Trellach attacked, and things proceeded from there.

It took another fifteen moves, but eventually Prentiss was down to a single soldier, while Trellach still had three of her own. She maneuvered around his remaining piece and pinned down the general, then swept it from the board once Prentiss tipped it over. “I win!” she shouted, realizing she had been sweating. “So much for your death knight, Damar!” She turned to the necromancer, who looked genuinely impressed.

“Congratulations,” he said. “I’ve never known anyone to beat Prentiss.” He inclined his head. “You are a magnificent player.”

Trellach smiled to herself. Using obsolete tactics wasn’t what she would call magnificent, but it wasn’t like Damar or her citizens were smart enough to know the difference. “I am. And now, as per our agreement, you will perform hard labor until you have paid off your debt to this town.” She nodded at her mages. “Take him away to the dungeons.”

She looked back at the crowd and opened her mouth to proclaim how her victory had destroyed the vandal who had done such harm to them, but she realized her mages weren’t moving. All four stood stock-still while Damar stretched and yawned. “Actually,” he said, “I think I’ll be leaving now—many things to do, you know. Good day, baroness.”

“You will not.” Trellach scowled at her mages. “I said, take him to the dungeons—”

“Why won’t I?” asked Damar.

Trellach stared at him. “Because the rules we agreed on—”

“I thought the rules didn’t apply to nobility?” Damar winked at her and walked past her mages, none of whom even turned in his direction. “Rather unfair, isn’t it? You expect everyone else to follow the rules, but you don’t seem to care to follow them yourself.” He chuckled. “Are they just for those who aren’t as clever as you?”

“Listen, I don’t know what—”

Damar waved his hand, and Trellach’s mages suddenly shimmered as a magic veil fell away from their bodies. All four were rotting, and Tyrn’s skin even shuddered as if worms were buried within it. The citizens in the amphitheater gasped and screamed while Trellach gaped. “How—” she began at last. “That—”

“They were dead the moment they broke into my camp to abduct me,” said Damar, pacing across the stage as if in a lecture. “Literally, actually; I set up a ward to kill any living thing that crossed it and raise it as a zombie. I find it gives me peace of mind.” He smiled politely. “But I had to admit at being curious as to what kind of foolish noble would try to arrest a necromancer, of all people. So I had that Tyrn fellow cast one of those illusions he was so fond of when he was alive, made your pet wizards look all nice and lively, and came back. After calling a few friends, of course.”

Before Trellach could ask about the friends, several forms in the crowd shimmered and resolved themselves into robed figures. The surrounding citizens jumped back as quickly as they could. “You have no right!” yelled Trellach. “You—”

“You had no right to try to kill me because you didn’t like my spell,” said Damar. “So I suppose we’re even.”

Trellach flushed. “Why did you even go through with the game if you could have left at any time?”

“To see how good you were!” Damar gestured at Prentiss, who stood perfectly still, just like Trellach’s mages, now that the game was finished. “Prentiss is a fine player, but he’s not exactly up to date on the latest moves. So, once you challenged me to a game, I figured I would stay and see how you did. And I must say, you exceeded all my expectations.” He grinned. “Do you know what this means?”

Trellach thrust her hand towards her sword, but the zombified Tyrn muttered something, and the blade crumbled to dust. “That—that I’m good enough you won’t kill me? Like I promised—”

Damar laughed, an ugly sound that echoed through the amphitheater. “Incorrect, I’m afraid,” he said. “But don’t worry. Your talent, at least, will live on.”

The baroness tried to back away, but Damar muttered something in a tongue she didn’t know, and the world went black around her.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

Damar nodded with obvious pleasure as Trellach’s body, fresh off from crumpling to the stage, rose again. The necromancers in the audience clapped politely, and he bowed until the applause died down, then had his newest death knight bow as well before taking her place near Prentiss. “Thank you,” he called to them. “You’re too kind.”

Someone screamed, and a few people immediately cringed away, as if worried Damar would kill them all on the spot, but the necromancer just beamed at them.  “You don’t need to worry,” he said. “My actions were taken only against your noble ruler who tried to kill me. We won’t hurt any of you…unless you give us cause.”

Nobody said anything, and Damar’s smile grew. “Well, we necromancers will be on our way. Although—we might be stopping back here now and then to resupply, rest, and so forth. We may even put up a little guild hall…oh, about where her house used to be.” He gestured at the death knight that had once been Baroness Trellach. “That won’t be a problem, will it?” He waited, but there were again no comments. “Excellent! I knew we could count on this town.”

He chuckled and turned to leave the stage, but just before he got off of it, some brave citizen shouted, “You knew? Did you plan all this out?”

Damar hesitated, then looked back. “Of course not!” he chirped. “I mean, I would have had to predict the completely random attack of rats that plagued this town, that Trellach would try to kill me, even that she’d challenge me to the one game this particular death knight is good at.” He grinned. “I’d have to be very clever indeed to work all that out in advance, wouldn’t I?”

He bowed once more to the citizens, and his zombies and death knights did the same. Then they all walked out of the amphitheater and were gone.

Trellach v. Damar, Part Two

Trellach v. Damar
A Story by Aaron Canton
-Part Two-

“…but I was not about to let this intruder get away with damaging your property and insulting you!” Trellach held a clenched fist up to her chest as her mages moved Damar to one side of the empty Lords board set on the amphitheater’s stone table. “He made it clear he believes we are too weak and foolish to stand up to him! Well, I will prove him wrong—in your names!”

The crowd clapped, though Trellach knew they didn’t really understand what was going on. But that was fine; they didn’t need to. All they needed to do was watch her humiliate their enemy and cheer for her when she drew her sword and cut off the mage’s head. Within a few weeks, they’d blame Damar for every misfortune that had befallen them, and Trellach would be as secure as ever.

“As your baroness, I have a wide latitude for what punishments I may inflict on those who would harm us,” continued Trellach, walking to the other side of the Lords table. “And I have made this a most fitting one. If Damar believes himself to be so much wiser than us, then we will play each other in the ultimate test of wisdom—the game of Lords. If he wins, he owes us nothing; I will pay to fix your property and accept this as my due for falling before a monster who thought nothing of upending your lies. But if—when—I win…” She swept an arm towards her audience. “He will do hard labor from morning to night, every day, until he has repaid us for the harm he wrought!” She turned towards Damar as the crowd cheered behind her. “I’m sure you’d much rather be doing important magical things—”

“Not really,” interrupted Damar in a quiet voice that somehow carried through the entire amphitheater. “I have a few spare hours before I need to leave town, so I suppose winning a quick game of Lords is as good a diversion as any.”

Trellach allowed herself a smirk. “Confidence is one thing, but in Lords there’s no substitute for good moves.” She dropped one hand to the side of the board, where a bunch of pieces had been readied for her to place. “Tyrn. His magic—”

“We placed bindings on him before you arrived,” said the mage, who nodded at his colleagues. “He cannot cast anything that targets another living being. That includes himself—no spells to boost his intelligence or anything like that.”

“Good.” Trellach picked up her general, the one mandatory piece, and smiled at Damar. “You may place your pieces first, wizard.”

Damar brightened. “Excellent!” He turned towards the crowd. “Prentiss! Mr. Prentiss, could you come here, please?”

“Prentiss? Who—” began Trellach before she heard a murmuring in the crowd and saw a very pale man in ragged clothes stumbling down the amphitheater steps. “Stop him!” she snapped to her mages. “There’s no asking for help in Lords!”

“I’m not asking for help.” Damar returned her smile. “Prentiss is a magic construct I whipped up one day when I wanted a good Lords opponent. He’ll be playing on my behalf.”

“What? That isn’t—”

“If you’re really cleverer than me,” said Damar, and suddenly his voice echoed across the amphitheater again even though he barely spoke above a whisper, “then surely you can beat one of my zombies.”

Trellach glared at Tyrn. “I thought you bound him?”

“Indeed he did!” chirped Damar. “Quite well too, really. But I was only bound to not cast spells on other living beings. Prentiss, as it happens, is quite deceased.”

Trellach examined the construct, which had reached the stage and was climbing up the stairs. The face looked familiar, and she realized it matched the one she’d seen in an old book. “That’s Matthias Prentiss!” she hissed. “The great Lords master who died thirty years ago!”

Damar nodded briskly. “I wanted a Lords partner, and I figured, who better than the man who revolutionized the game? So when I heard of his death, I simply went on over to the gravesite and brought him back as a death knight. We play every few days, and if I may say so, he’s even better now than when he died.” He chuckled. “Anyways, good luck beating him, baroness. I’m sure you’ll do splendidly.”

Tyrn moved forwards, magic crackling in his hands, but Trellach held up a hand to stop him. If he did anything now, she’d look weak in front of her people, like she couldn’t handle Damar after all. If she was to recover her pride and her dignity, she had to beat Damar as he was now, champion helper or not. “I will,” she told Damar. “Shall we?”

Prentiss was a thin old man with wispy hair and a completely blank expression. When he reached the board and moved besides Damar, he set up his pieces quickly and efficiently, choosing the classic formation: six soldiers—the weakest piece in the game—bracketing one knight in his second row and an array of archers and bards complementing his priest, mage, and general behind them. Trellach, for her part, went with her own usual strategy. She placed her general in the very back, then added two priests—whose special ability let them paralyze opposing pieces—and one mage—who could shoot halfway across the board in a single attack—in her center row. She filled every remaining space in her three deployment rows with a soldier.

The resultant board reminded Trellach of Lords books she had read when preparing for tournaments. Prentiss had used the traditional arrangement of pieces, now the favored army of what was called the ‘outpost’ school. It featured strong pieces, which could vault around the board and establish secured positions, and weaker pieces that protected and supported the stronger ones. Trellach, though, was a leading proponent of the ‘blockade’ school and had chosen an army to match. Her pieces were weak but numerous enough to clog the board, preventing Prentiss’ strongest pieces from making full use of their moves. Add in a couple priests to prevent opposing forces from fleeing and a single mage for a little firepower, and it was an effective way of shutting down a wide variety of enemy formations, then drowning them in sheer numbers. The result was the classic armies of the two largest schools of Lords would go up against each other… and, if Trellach remembered correctly, the blockade school won about sixty percent of such games.

“All right,” she said, smiling to herself. “Your move, Damar.”

Prentiss swiftly reached down, gripped a soldier, and shoved it forward two squares—the most common opening move in the game. Trellach moved a soldier one square, beginning what would soon become an inexorable crawl of her soldier army up the board. “I hope you brought some interesting variations,” she said. “Lest we all be bored to death.”

“Oh, no need to worry about that,” said Damar. “Why, in a few moves I daresay you’ll be completely and totally lost!”

Trellach scowled again, but Prentiss moved, and she returned her focus to the game.

The first dozen moves were straight from textbook, as both Prentiss and Trellach developed their sides according to the fundamental principles of their schools. On move thirteen, though, Prentiss moved an archer instead of the bard tradition dictated. This left his forward position slightly weaker, since the bard wasn’t there to ‘boost’ the pieces and enable them to move farther, but now his right side was stronger on account of the additional archer poised to fire into Trellach’s lines.

Trellach reached for her priest to move it one square to the right and paralyze the archer, but just before she picked it up, she saw what Prentiss was doing. If she did that, he’d be able—in only seven or eight turns—to exploit her underdeveloped left side and set up a forward base there. She instead moved a soldier, one which would both put a slight amount of pressure on the archer while also securing crucial squares on the left side of the board. Rather than rescue his archer, though, Prentiss just moved his mage to attack on an entirely unexpected angle, and Trellach once again scrambled to catch up.

Prentiss unleashed variation after variation, quickly departing from any book Trellach had read and moving the game onto a path of his own. As Trellach fought to puzzle his strategies out, she realized that each of Prentiss’ plans was thought out at least ten moves ahead, and if she missed a single one, then over the next fifteen moves, she’d find half her army isolated and captured. Soon her head pounded from the effort of trying to deduce Prentiss’ moves.

“Sometimes I have him play against himself for a week or two,” called Damar in a light tone. “Just working out new variations. What do you think?”

Trellach ignored him as Prentiss made another move. She narrowed her eyes, trying to work out his plan, and advanced one of her soldiers another two squares, but as soon as she let go, she felt she’d made a mistake. Prentiss swiftly moved his knight halfway across the board, and Trellach immediately saw he was concentrating his army to attack her formation in a spot she couldn’t reinforce without critically weakening herself elsewhere. All she could do was sacrifice a soldier to blunt his attack and buy her a turn to catch up, then dig in and hope he couldn’t press his attack.

But he did. Prentiss took the soldier she threw in front of his knight and maneuvered his pieces like a scalpel to tear into her weakened army. Over the course of ten turns, he widened the crack in the side of her massive army into a great rift, then worked his soldiers into where they could target her troops at their leisure. It was all Trellach could do to keep as many of her pieces alive as she could, but every turn worsened her position. When Prentiss forked her general and mage, forcing her to sacrifice the latter piece to rescue the former, she felt a wave of despair and heard her citizens whispering anxiously. “No,” she muttered. “I am not losing to a zombie.”

“Yes, you are,” said Damar in a pleasant tone.

Trellach v. Damar, Part One

Trellach v. Damar
A Story by Aaron Canton
-Part One-

 

Elwyn Trellach, baroness of Roulena, allowed herself a faint grin as her subjects filed into the amphitheater set in the middle of the town square. Her advisors had told her building the amphitheater was impossible, that they could never afford the cost of bringing all the needed materials and craftsmen to Roulena’s isolated location in the middle of the Dragon’s Bane Mountains, but the baroness had known she could find a way. And she had; after a few donations to a small—but expertly chosen—group of officials in Viscosa, a road was built connecting Roulena to the large city of Caledos, slashing the price of imports and incentivizing merchants to make more frequent trips to Trellach’s domain. After that, it only took a few new tariffs on said merchants, and a tax or two on her citizens, to fund the rest of the project.

Trellach reached out and traced one hand over the large, ornate table set in the middle of the stage. What her council hadn’t understood, she thought, was that—even though she wasn’t the sort of baroness to parade around in golden regalia for no reason—her duties really did require a certain amount of grandeur. You couldn’t just announce a knighthood or a new public works project in any old square; the people wouldn’t respect a noble who treated her duties with such a casual air. But a structure with marble columns and statues and lines of gold etched into the surface of the stage? That was a suitable place to send off a diplomat, or promote an official, or honor a hero.

Or execute a criminal.

She turned on her heel and descended the stairs leading off the stage, then opened a door in the platform’s base and entered a small room. Four robed mages were inside, all standing around a bound, gagged man with sallow skin and a wrinkled face. Trellach glanced at the mages and asked, “How is he?”

“He’ll make it to his execution,” drawled Trellach’s most senior mage, an aged man named Tyrn. When bandits had plagued the Dragon’s Bane Mountains eight years prior, Tyrn had crushed them in a rockslide; when a peasant leader had gathered followers for a rebellion three years after that, Tyrn had conjured an illusion of a sturdy bridge over a great ravine and lured the peasant to his doom. It was thanks to his magic, almost as much as her wits, that Trellach had ruled Roulena in peace for so long. “You can even take his gag off if you want; we’ll all be ready to cast on him if he tries anything.”

Trellach looked at her other three mages, saw their confident grins and firm nods, and whipped the gag off of the bound man’s mouth. “Damar,” she said. “I hope you know why you’re here.”

Damar opened his mouth, but rather than say anything, he let out a long yawn. Trellach stared as Damar finished and gave her a calm, lazy smile. “I suppose,” he said in a casual voice, “my services weren’t to your liking?”

“Liking?” Trellach snorted. “You attacked my town!”

“But, baroness, I cast exactly the spell you requested. The zombie cats I summoned purged Roulena of all its rats, did they not?”

Trellach’s eyes flashed. Roulena had suffered an unusually large infestation of rats in the previous months; not enough to make life unbearable, but enough to annoy Trellach and—more importantly—undermine her authority with her subjects. No matter how many vermin Tyrn and his subordinate mages killed with their spells, there were always more ready to take their places. When he’d admitted defeat, she’d sent letters to Caledos, Atalatha, and Viscosa offering great rewards for a pest exterminator. Weeks later, the necromancer Damar had shown up on her doorstep with a promise to take care of her problem. Trellach had hired him… and regretted it immediately thereafter.

“They killed all the rats—and wrecked my town doing it! Those beasts you summoned broke through doors, windows, even stone walls when they chased the vermin. When the rats hid in the town granary, your damn cats practically dismantled the whole building digging them out!” She clenched a fist. “Do you have any idea of the damage your magic caused?”

“Less than the damage those rats caused, I imagine,” mused Damar. He leaned back, looking so calm that Trellach realized she was checking to make sure he was still bound and at her mercy. “But I did warn you to have your citizens open their doors and windows so the cats could get to the rats in their homes without having to break through anything to reach them. I really don’t see how any damage they inflicted is my fault.”

Trellach had issued the warning. She had also arranged for a few of her citizens to hear rumors Damar had planned on robbing everyone once they’d opened their houses for him. If a few ignored the warning and later found their houses damaged, everyone would see the folly of ignoring Trellach’s advice. The rumors, however, had spread far quicker than she’d thought, and almost nobody had opened their doors. Now half the houses in her town had holes in their walls, and a few had even collapsed.

But whatever she’d done or hadn’t done didn’t matter. She needed to keep the public’s trust in her, which meant she needed someone to blame, and Damar was as good a target as any. “Well, as it happens, I’m in charge here, so I get to decide who’s at fault.” She chuckled. “And I say it’s the necromancer who summoned the monsters that wrecked the town. Have you anything to say before I sentence you?”

Damar raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“So be it.” She nodded at the mages. “I’ll go up to the stage and tell the townspeople we caught the wizard who destroyed their houses. Whose beasts almost harmed them, their loved ones, and their children. Then you’ll bring him up there, and I’ll…” She drew a finger across her neck. “Finish him off.”

She waited for him to shout, plead, or cry, but he just gave her a bemused look. “I’m a necromancer,” he said. “I’ll come back.”

“What?” Trellach shook her head. “No, you won’t! I—I mean, Tyrn will make sure your body is beyond any sort of magical—”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Damar settled back in his chair again. “Well, shall we get on with it? I must admit, I’ve never been executed before. Will you decapitate me, or hang me, or maybe have this Tyrn fellow use a magic spell?”

Trellach’s mouth moved soundlessly for a few seconds before she continued. “You didn’t let me finish,” she said, acting as if Damar had given her the terrified reaction she’d hoped for. “I’m not without mercy, and there’s still a way you can help me. If you do, I’ll…look the other way when you escape my dungeons.”

“Help?” Damar’s smile grew, and Trellach relaxed. He clearly had been scared, she thought, even if he hadn’t shown it. “How so?”

The baroness sat on another chair across from Damar. “A noble must have the respect of her subjects or else she will not remain the ruler of her province for long. They must think her to be wise enough to solve any problem that arises. Thanks to your little debacle, I’ve lost a fair amount of that respect. And I will get it back—”

“By letting me go to demonstrate you’re smart enough to know Raleigh’s rules and laws and wise enough to follow them?”

Trellach smirked. “I’m wise enough to know the rules do not apply to nobles, Damar. If you don’t believe me…” She swept an arm around the darkened room. “Why don’t you appeal to those rules? Perhaps they’ll manifest and save you.”

Damar looked amused. “I suppose that would be foolish, now that I think about it.”

“Anyways. I will get it back by proving I’m wiser than you, the famous wizard Damar.” Trellach paused before adding, “Are you familiar with the game Lords?”

“The strategy game? Yes, I play frequently. Why?”

“It is generally accepted only the wisest people are truly skilled at Lords. And, as it happens, I am a master at it. I’ve won tournaments, and the king of Raleigh even gave me a medal after a particularly brilliant game against his own personal tutor—”

“Ah!” Damar brightened. “Now I understand. Your barony’s falling apart because you spend all your time playing a game!”

Trellach flushed but controlled herself. “Even though the people here have heard I’m a Lords master, there’s never been any strong enough opponents out here for me to prove it. Fortunately, you’re a wizard, and everyone knows wizards are supposed to be brilliant. They’re probably some of the best Lords players around. There’s no point in me playing Tyrn or my other mages; they’re on my staff, so everyone would think they let me win. If I played you, however…”

Damar tilted his head. “So, you propose we go on stage, I throw the match and lose in a humiliating defeat, and with your honor restored, you let me go?”

“Of course not. If you threw the match, someone might notice. I want you to give it your all—so that when I beat you, they won’t have any excuse to doubt me.” Trellach leaned back. “We’ll play a game of Lords. If you win, you go free on the spot. If you lose, well, I think a bit of hard labor until you pay back all that damage your cats caused would be appropriate.”

“And if I refuse to play,” said Damar, “it’s the chopping block, I suppose?”

“Yes.” Trellach looked directly into Damar’s eyes. “So. What’s your choice?”

Silence stretched between them, and for a moment, Trellach worried she was wrong. That Damar wasn’t just faking a nonchalant attitude. That he really wasn’t scared. That he didn’t think Trellach could hurt him… and that he might somehow be right.

But Damar nodded. “You make a strong case,” he said. “Let’s play Lords, Baroness Trellach.”

The noble’s eyes gleamed as she gestured for her mages to take Damar and follow her to the stage. “Very well,” she said. “I look forward to it.”